Flu response variations

08 January 2014

Interview with

Nell Barrie

Kat -  There was another flu story I saw from scientists at the University of Melbourne and they've published this in PNAS this month.  They've discovered a genetic marker that can predict whether patients will have a more severe response to flu.  This is a new strain of flu - H7N9 - that's currently found in China.  Tell me a bit more about this research.

Nell -  So, this seems to be to do with the way a particular person will react to a type of virus.  If they've got higher than normal levels of cytokines as a result of a type of genetic variation then they can get a really severe level of infection from some types of flu.  We all know that flu affects people in different ways.  It's always a nasty illness, but some people get really seriously ill.  We know that many people can die from some strains of flu.  So, being able to say which people will react severely is absolutely crucial if we're going to find a better way of tackling it and making sure that future pandemics aren't such a big threat.

Kat -  It's interesting that what the researchers found is people with this particular genetic variant, it's a protein called IFITM3 for the specialists out there, leads to what's called a cytokine storm.  This is where your immune system just goes crazy.  It's creating all these molecules that stir up the immune system.  So, finding ways to understand that, I think will be very important in managing these kind of responses.

Nell -  Absolutely.  I mean, cytokine storms can be causing different types of situations as well.  So, anything that teaches us more about that could be really beneficial to stopping people and getting affected by that type of thing.

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